These words of Ahab depict the degree of surrender required to answer Christ's call and enter the Kingdom of God. When Jesus came preaching the Kingdom of God, He issued a call that required no lesser surrender, demanding the radical renunciation of all that you are and possess. It also requires a radical response to heed the radical call of the King of kings. Jesus was absolutely brutal and unwavering about the requirements of following Him and be HIS disciple. He made no exceptions.
And yet today, we Christians glibly parrot the words "I am following Jesus, I am a follower of Christ!" We sing of our devotion to Christ, "I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back . . ." and yet we seem unsure of what these words really mean. To some following Christ is attending Church and paying tithe. To others it is blind submission to a Church hierarchy. To others it may mean something different, whatever their concept of holiness may be. But what does it really mean to answer Christ's radical call, "Follow Me"?
When Jesus first began His earthly ministry. he issued a radical call to twelve men. That call was no less radical than the one Ben-hadad issued to Ahab and clearly represents Christ's call to every believer. We can learn much by considering these individuals Christ gave this invitation to, and pondering how radical it was for them to immediately drop everything and follow Him. This kind of utter detachment and abandonment stumbles the western mind. From a twenty-first century theological perspective, this borders on irresponsibility and fanaticism. The very Idea that men would leave their trades, wives and children to follow someone who had no place to lay His head, defies all the western values that Americanized Christianity holds dear and dutiful.
For instance, two fishermen, Simon Peter and Andrew his brother, were casting a net into the Sea of Galilee when Jesus came walking by. Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Without questioning, they IMMEDIATELY left their nets and followed him. Really! How strange is this? Going on from there, Jesus saw two other brothers, James and John in a boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, getting ready for the next day's catch. The scripture says "He called them." Is that it? He simply called them? He didn't reveal the whole counsel of God, give an altar call, or ask for a show of hands? He called them? What was their response to this simple and yet radical call? "They IMMEDIATELY left the boat and their father, and followed Jesus (Matthew 4:18), not for a day, not for a week, not for a month but for three years. Put yourself in their place. Ask yourself; "Is my commitment to Christ this radical?"
Then there was Matthew sitting at the local Internal Revenue office, collecting taxes from his fellow Jews for the Roman government. Jesus said to Matthew, "Follow me." What did Matthew do? "He got up and followed him." (See Matthew 8:8). What irresponsibility! He had a government job with all the perks! His future was guaranteed, and he left it all for a life of uncertainty.
The same thing happened to Philip. "The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, 'Follow Me.'" (John 1:43, NKJV).
Perhaps the answer to this mysterious selection process is found in Jesus' words, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). These men may not have fully known who Jesus was at first but Jesus knew them and that they were chosen by the Father. They also recognized His voice as that of the Good Shepherd and followed Him.
Another who desired to follow Christ asked that he be allowed to fulfill his responsibility to his family by first going and burying his father. "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." What was Jesus' response to this grieving man's request? Surely such a circumstance would merit an exception. Not so! Seemingly defying all social protocol this Radical from Nazareth replied, "Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead" (Matthew 8:22) "but you go and announce the Kingdom of God" (Luke 9:60).
Can you put yourself in this man's place? Here you are among fellow believers and you go to the "head pastor" of your church and say, "I need you to excuse me from my place on the ministry team this Sunday. My Father in California has just died." What would you think of this man if he replied to you, "Let your dead unsaved relatives put him in the ground. You are not excused." How would this sit with you? I can tell you that a pastor with this attitude would soon have no flock in today's church.
Another said, "I want to follow you, Lord, but first allow me to bid farewell to those who are at my house." But Jesus said to him, "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God" (Luke 9:61-62).
Wow! Do these demands seem a bit unreasonable to you? Surely we should honor our earthly fathers enough to give them a proper funeral? Don't we owe it to our families to at least tell them "goodbye" before disappearing from their lives?
Then there was the rich young ruler who ran to Jesus, knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except one--God. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder,' 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not give false testimony,' 'Do not defraud,' 'Honor your father and mother.'" The rich young ruler answered, "Teacher, I have observed all these things from my youth." Jesus looking at him loved him, and said to him, "One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross" (See Mark 10:17-21).
Because Jesus loved, he issued The Radical Call--requiring the one thing lacking. He looked upon him and loved him and that love required that he expose that one weight of earthly responsibility that so easily beset him. What utter disregard for this man's financial responsibilities! Sell all and give to the poor? Couldn't this money be better spent to support missionaries, apostles and prophets as they traveled around preaching the kingdom? How irresponsible is it to give away all this money when it could be used to further the gospel.
What would you think if you went to join a church and the pastor asked what kind of life you were living? You assure him that you are in good standing with God, but then he tells you if you were really perfect you would give all you have to the poor and come and follow him. What audacity! We can understand a man requiring you to give all to HIS ministry if you were to join it, but to give all you have to those wretched poor who most likely would have squandered it all in a week or two, never! But this was the very test that this rich young ruler was required to pass. He failed it miserably, and went away sad.
We wonder just how many would also fail such a test in today's church system. Jesus told him, "Yet, one thing you lack. . ." What is our "one thing lacking"? That is what Jesus went after in each of these cases and He has not changed. Today we are being tested just like they as to whether WE are worthy of His kingdom.
Art Katz wrote in the forward to his book, The Spirit of Truth:
How is it that a phenomenon whose origin is heavenly and was purchased at such a cost should become, by our generation, so melancholy a culture? I was brought one Sunday morning, free from any commitment of my own, to enjoy the luxury of hearing another preacher. I went tripping as a doe, full of delight and anticipation, buoyed by the lavish praise for the minister as a preacher of the Word by the brother who escorted me.
I was seated in the balcony of the crowded church attentive and waiting but not a little disturbed by the contrasting groups around me. On the one hand, the audience included clusters of giddy teenagers round about. On the other hand I was struck by the air of religious stiffness and joylessness in the adults. I endeavored to throttle my jaundiced subjectivity, not wanting in any way to allow it to impinge upon the preached word now beginning to come forth. As the message unfolded, I could readily understand the enthusiasm for the preacher which my companion held. The words were clear, pointed, correct. But what then was this strange uneasiness rising in my soul that with every word intensified 'till finally my innards were knotted in an inexplicable anguish?
At last I realized my dilemma: My mind was approving the outward biblical and doctrinal correctness of the word preached, but my soul was recoiling at the spirit of the speaking which contradicted it's every syllable! We were with the one enjoined to radical commitment and sacrifice, while the other was saying, "No need to panic; this needn't be taken seriously--remember, this is only a sermon. I'll provide a biblical message weekly and you provide for my personal security and well-being. I won't push you and you don't push me, and we'll get along famously."
In that moment the realization was birthed in me, (should I have not long before seen it?) that the truth is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, that the spirit of the one speaking--the constitution and grit of the person--must be in complete agreement with the words of the one speaking or it is a LIE. The devastating words of the widow of Zarephath to the prophet Elijah pierce me still: "Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the words of the Lord in thy mouth is truth." (1 Kings 17:24)
It is one thing to speak the words of Christ and preach from the Bible, yet it is a whole other thing to speak from a life within that is in agreement with the one who wrote the scriptures. Is it any wonder that today's ministries lack what the early apostles had? Of them it was said, "With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus."
Who Do You Love?
Many a person has heard the call of God, but not followed because they feared disappointing their parents who had designs on their futures, perhaps to take over the family business or become a doctor or a lawyer, thus fulfilling their own childhood aspirations. You guessed it, Jesus even had something to say about this.
"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 10:37-39, NKJV).
On another occasion, while Jesus was teaching in a house His mother and brothers stood outside "and sent to Him, calling Him." Mark records that "a multitude was sitting around him when messengers told Him, 'Behold, your mother, your brothers, and your sisters are outside looking for you.' He answered them, 'Who are my mother and my brothers?' Looking around at those who sat around him, He said, 'Behold, my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.' (See Mark 3:32-35)
Neither Mark nor Matthew give any indication in their accounts of this event that Jesus ever went out to see His relatives. He evidently left them standing outside. He simply turned to the multitude around Him and said, "Behold, my mother and my brothers!" By today's Christian standards, to ignore your parents in such a manner is disrespectful and rude. Christ's devotion to the will of His heavenly Father superceded all earthly loyalties and responsibilities, and in that He was radical indeed. His life and devotion to the Father fully exemplified the radical-ness of the call that He issued to others. He also required this same radical abandonment in those who would follow Him.
Many of us have gone on to find our lives and make something of ourselves at the bidding of our parents, all the while ignoring the commandment of the Lord to follow Him. What a loss! All because of this radical call, we deem Christ too extreme, too demanding. So we settle for an existence that is less than perfect as we join the flow of American mediocrity with our house in the suburbs, our two new cars, color TVs and home entertainment systems, hot tubs, and all the creature comforts of this world that we can or cannot afford.
As a result of this, so many of us in this same boat form clubs of like souls who have not followed on to know the Lord and we call these organizations "churches." We hire men who will tell us we are doing the right thing, who are willing to scratch our ears, teaching nothing beyond the general and predictable level of commitment that each group has deemed to be reasonable and therefore correct. We call these teachers, pastors. No, this is NOT the church of Jesus Christ, who by definition are His called out ones. The bar of Christian commitment has been lowered so far that you have to scuff your feet to stub your toe on it. The Radical Call cannot be demanded by anyone but Christ, yet religious man is intent on watering it down to make things comfortable and palatable for all. After all, if we were to preach the same radical message that Jesus preached, how would we ever fill our impressive church buildings and pay our pastors' big salaries? We must be practical here!
Today we are considered saved if we sit in a padded pew while the man up front gives an altar call that is no more inconvenient than secretly slipping one hand in the air. Least anyone is embarrassed by our public display of loyalty to Christ; the rest of the faithful close their eyes and bow their heads, no one looking around. If THIS is indicative of the level of our commitment, no wonder that the divorce rate, crime rate, drug and alcohol abuse, etc, statistics among Christians in America match that of the un-churched. It takes a radical commitment and conversion to walk a life that is beyond the downward pull of this world system. If we are to live as citizens of another kingdom that is not of this world, we must first take a step that is as radical as putting a man on Mars. We must boldly go where the nominal believers dare not venture.
This Radical Call is well depicted in John Bunyan's classic, Pilgrim's Progress. A man, later called Christian, stood crying, looking around as though he could not tell which way to go. A man named Evangelist came to him, and asked why he was crying.
Christian answered, "Sir, I perceive by the book in my hand, that I am condemned to die, and after that to come to judgment; and I find that I am not willing to do the first, nor able to do the second."
Then Evangelist gave him a parchment roll, with the words "Flee from the wrath to come" written within it. After reading this, Christian asked, "Where must I fly?"
Evangelist: (pointing with his finger over a very wide field said, to Christian) "Do you see yonder wicket gate?" (Matthew 7:14)
Evangelist: "Do you see yonder shining light?" (Psalm 119:105; 2 Peter 1:19)
Christian: "I think I do."
Evangelist: "Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto; so shalt thou see the gate…"
The man began to run toward the light, but he had not run far from his own door before his wife and children perceived it and began to beg him to return. Refusing to look behind him and putting his fingers in his ears, Christian ran towards the middle of the plain, crying, "Life! Life! Eternal life!"
His neighbors also came out to see him run. Some mocked, others threatened, and some cried after him to return. Two even followed him, determined to fetch him back by force. The name of the one was Obstinate and the other Pliable. Finally they caught up with him. Christian asked them why they had come. "To persuade you to go back with us," they replied.
This dream (as Bunyan called it) demonstrates the struggle all believers face as they set out to follow Christ. The decision to follow Christ in such a radical abandonment is viewed by the world as madness and by today's church as fanaticism. The obsession to run after and bring such demented ones back is driven by the prudent, balanced and wise voices of Christian mediocrity.
The Seemingly Irresponsible Teachings of the Radical Christ
Early in my (George) walk with Christ, in my childish faith, I didn't know any better than to read the words of Christ and take them literally. When I read, " whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also," I thought that was what it really meant. Silly me. Before long I learned that Jesus' words needed to be interpreted and made contemporary. These simple words were not as easy to understand as I first thought. I soon learned that it sometimes took three hours to explain what Jesus said in three seconds. Things were much more complicated than I thought. So off to Bible school I went to learn how to arrive at a balanced perspective. Who knows, I might have done something radical or even irresponsible if I didn't learn how to interpret these difficult teachings of Christ.
There I sat in the classroom and sure enough, someone asked the Professor a profound question, "When Jesus said, 'Give to him who asks you, and don't turn away him who desires to borrow from you' (Matthew 5:42), what did He mean?" Surly He didn't mean, "Give to him who asks you, and don't turn away him who desires to borrow from you"? An anticipatory hush fell over the student body, as the all-knowing Professor set out to explain the qualification and responsibilities that the one asking must meet before another should give to them. I had no idea that there was so much involved. Certainly it would be irresponsible to give to someone without knowing the extenuating circumstances. Would they be responsible with the gift? So it was that I learned how to interpret the coded language of Christ. You take His words and interpret your wants and desires into them, under the guise of prudence and responsibility.
Christ's Utter Disregard For Sound Financial Principles
There is much talk in Christendom today about "sound biblical financial principles." There is much talk about "grounded principles and solid practical advice so you can plan for a secure future, get out or stay out of debt, and enjoy freedom that comes from having your financial house in order." They talk about "stewardship and financial security, understanding wise money management skills, investing to maximize results, avoiding financial disaster, retiring with a comfortable lifestyle," and so forth.
This is the language of Wall Street, not the Via De La Rosa.
One day while Jesus was teaching His disciples one of the multitude that had also gathered around said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." That sounds reasonable, doesn't it? It is only right that this man should receive his share of the inheritance. Surely Christ would take the time to correct this injustice. But no, it seemed that Jesus didn't even see this man's plight but looked beyond to a greater problem. Jesus said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?" Then Jesus turned to His disciples and the rest of multitudes around Him and said to them, "Beware! Keep yourselves from covetousness, for a man's life doesn't consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses."
Then He spoke a parable to them, saying,
"The ground of a certain rich man brought forth abundantly. He reasoned within himself, saying, 'What will I do, because I don't have room to store my crops?' He said, 'This is what I will do. I will pull down my barns, and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. I will tell my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years. Take your ease, eat, drink, be merry."' "But God said to him, 'You foolish one, tonight your soul is required of you. The things which you have prepared--whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." (Luke 12:16-21)
In America soundness of responsibility is measured by the size of your barns, the extent of your portfolio, the size of your bank account and whether it can be said of you, "He is a success." This preoccupation with mammon is also rampant in the American churches, which are modeled after American big business. And the Americanized gospel is a mixture of America's corporate values and the Judeo-Christian ethic. Even the American churches have adopted this measure of success and respectability. As a result, many ministers have taken on the flavor of the motivational-speakers of corporate America, speaking more of success and money than of the risen Lord, making wealth the proof of your godliness. They teach that if you have great faith you will have great wealth. Hence they constantly tear down their barns and build bigger and more extravagant ones, to lay up many goods for many years. In corporate America, bigger is always better, but not so in the kingdom of God.
One such well-known Christian financial counselor wrote,
"Can you imagine retiring with a nest egg of $1 million? It may seem excessive but, actually, it's not unrealistic. Consider that 30-year Treasury Bonds currently yield about 5.7 percent interest. If you invested $1 million at 5.7 percent interest, you'd receive annual income of $57,000 or $4,750 per month. That may be more income than you'd need if you retired today, but consider the impact of inflation over time. Currently, inflation is about 2 percent, but it wasn't too long ago when inflation was much higher. And we may see higher inflation rates in the future.
"Let's assume a long-term inflation rate of 3 percent per year. If we discount an income of $4,750 per month beginning 10 years from now at 3 percent inflation, it is equivalent to $3,520 per month today, or $42,000 per year. If you plan to retire in 20 years with an income of $4,750 per month, it is equivalent to $2,609 per month today, or $31,000 per year. Thus, due to inflation and the very real income needs you will have in the future, it is not unreasonable at all to have a nest egg of at least $1 million.
"Many people may believe that accumulating $1 million in savings and investments is impossible. However, it's very possible!
"Let's assume that you can earn 10 percent on your investments. This is based on the fact that the returns of large capitalization stocks over the last 70 years have averaged in the range of 10 percent to 11 percent. If your investments are in a taxable account, then you must earn more than 10 percent in order to net 10 percent after taxes. Assuming you're starting from scratch, the chart on this page shows how much you’ll have to save each month at 10 percent interest in order to accumulate $1 million by age 65. As you can see, the earlier you start, the less you'll have to set aside each month."
Regardless of Christ's teachings regarding the foolishness and danger of storing up and trusting in riches, such teaching is common in Christendom today. This may sound like sound financial counseling and may even work, because you get what you seek. You have your reward, but the real issue here is where our hearts are. Where our treasures are, there our hearts will be also.
Now compare the sound financial teachings of Jesus Christ to His disciples.
"Therefore I tell you, don't be anxious for your life, what you will eat, nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they don't sow, they don't reap, they have no warehouse or barn, and God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds! Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his height? If then you aren't able to do even the least things, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow. They don't toil, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if this is how God clothes the grass in the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith? Don't seek what you will eat or what you will drink; neither be anxious. For the nations of the world seek after all of these things, but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek God's Kingdom, and all these things will be added to you."
What kind of hippy attitude is Jesus teaching here? He seems to be rejecting the moorings of established society. Isn't it ambition that drives a healthy economy? We should not forget who Jesus is teaching here! He is teaching the poor how to get ahead. His sound financial advice to them was, "Take no thought for your life." But hang on to your hats folks! It gets more radical from here!
"Don't be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom. Sell that which you have, and give gifts to the needy. Make for yourselves purses which don't grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn't fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (See Luke 12:13-40)
The Un-Christlike Model of Today's Church
Let's see if we have this correct thus far. Jesus is telling the multitudes (Greek ochlas--those with no titles of positions) to take no thought for their lives, and then he tells them to take what precious little they have, sell it and give it to those more needy than themselves.
The parable of the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-14) points to the need of the believer to use the unrighteous mammon at his disposal to buy "friends that can receive him into everlasting habitations." We as Christians should be doing the same with those things that we call our own by lessening the burdens of those who are weighed down in this world.
Have you ever noticed that the ones who are the most generous are the ones who have little? I, Michael, spent some time in Guatemala and I have never seen such poverty, yet such giving hearts as I saw in those people. It taught me what Jesus meant when He said, "Blessed are the poor." James warned, "Do you not know that it is the rich who exploit you?" How many of us will stand before God and find that we have no friends on the other side to receive us because we were not rich toward God by helping the poor, the widows and the orphans? Instead we have already had our reward in THIS life, because we spent all our lives pleasing our own flesh with the resources God put us in charge of.
How much of our lives are spent in finding our lives? Do we in the American church really live like our REAL lives are in heavenly places in Christ? If so, then why have we and our churches spent so much to store up so much in this life? A mere hundred years ago, the American church was spending great amounts on foreign missions. Not so today. We leave it all to governmental organizations to do that and thus the Gospel of Christ is not being manifest in the world.
Many years ago I, Michael, was on a church board of deacons. I took the position that was offered because I had a heart for foreign missions and that church was known to spend 30% of its budget on reaching out to the lost in foreign lands. Almost as soon as I accepted the part, the pastor started coming to our deacons' meetings and asking us to cut back our donations to mission work and start earmarking more of the church income for "building-up the base." You guessed it. It was not long before the missions budget was cut to less than 10%, the food bank was designated for members only, and many other self-centered programs were instated. I resigned in disgust halfway through my two-year term.
For there to be a radical call to a lost and dying world, there must once again be radicals doing the calling, just as Jesus called. You cannot preach a radical gospel from a padded pulpit to people sitting in padded pews, while you wear your three piece, silk- lined Armani worsted wool suit. All the while your parishioners are checking their Rolex watches to see how much longer your canned sermon will last. Does anyone see the irony in all this that calls itself the church? As the singer, Ray Stevens, so aptly observed, "Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?" Too many have the attitude of a small-time evangelist that I (Michael) once knew. As he belched after a big meal and patted his bulging belly, he observed, "Yup! This forsaking all is really where it's at."
Now let us say in conclusion that we (George and Michael) are required to be just as ruthless with our carnality as we are at pointing out the flesh of today's ministers and the fallen state of the church. God is requiring of us the same radical call. I (Michael) remember how surprised I was when I prophesied something to a local church and found out that God was first requiring it of me! Judgment first begins in the house of the prophet, then the family of God and finally it goes out to the world.
Please hear our hearts here. We are not throwing stones from our lofty ivory towers. We are just two brothers in Christ who desire to see God's glory fill the earth. We also desire that all flesh offering resistance to this (including our own) would be burned away by the fire of God's Spirit. We understand that the manifold wisdom of God cannot be made known except by the Ekklesia. This wisdom is rarely seen today, for today's church has lost its salt, it radical-ness, its otherworldliness. Many are beginning to see the need for the restoration of the primitive Church" and are heralding a cry of return to Radical Christianity. This all seems right and true, but understand this: you cannot have radical Christianity without radical Christians and you cannot have radical Christians without a Radical Call! You may recapture the primitive pattern, but if you lack the primitive abandonment and sacrifice that the early Church possessed, you still have nothing that would set you apart from any other worldly institution. You may have radical programs, a radical worship team, a radical youth group, but without a radical severing from the things of this world in your life and a wholehearted clinging to the Kingdom of God, all you've got is empty religion.
Those who truly follow Jesus will not find themselves welcome among the religious institutions controlled by men, any more than He was welcome among the religious institutions of 2000 years ago. The Radical Christ still calls us from outside the camp. Will we take up our crosses and go out to meet Him, bearing His reproach? Are we willing to pay the price?
Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Hence, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. (Hebrews 13:12-14, NASB).to top